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Presidential Candidates Introduce New Version Of Marijuana Justice Act

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Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination are joining forces on Thursday to re-file a new version of the most far-reaching marijuana legislation ever introduced in Congress.

The bill, the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and withhold certain federal funding from states that disproportionately enforce marijuana criminalization laws against people of color and low-income individuals.

Watch Booker and colleagues discuss the legislation below:

The legislation would also automatically expunge past federal convictions for cannabis use and possession, as well as create a fund to reinvest in communities hardest hit by the war on drugs.

“The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals,” Booker said in a press release. “The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.”

“But it’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs,” he said. “And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”

The legislation is initially cosponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“As I said during my 2016 campaign, hundreds of thousands of people are arrested for possession of marijuana every single year,” Sanders said. “Many of those people, disproportionately people of color, have seen their lives negatively impacted because they have criminal records as a result of marijuana use. That has got to change. We must end the absurd situation of marijuana being listed as a Schedule 1 drug alongside heroin. It is time to decriminalize marijuana, expunge past marijuana convictions and end the failed war on drugs.”

“Millions of Americans’ lives have been devastated because of our broken marijuana policies, especially in communities of color and low-income communities,” said Gillibrand. “Currently, just one minor possession conviction can take away a lifetime of opportunities for jobs, education, and housing, tear families apart, and make people more vulnerable to serving time in jail down the road. It is shameful that my son would likely be treated very differently from one of his Black or Latino peers if he was caught with marijuana, and legalizing marijuana is an issue of morality and social justice. I’m proud to work with Senator Booker on this legislation to help fix decades of injustice caused by our nation’s failed drug policies.”

“Marijuana should be legalized, and we should wipe clean the records of those unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes. By outlawing marijuana, the federal government puts communities of color, small businesses, public health and safety at risk,” said Warren. ​

“Marijuana laws in this country have not been applied equally, and as a result we have criminalized marijuana use in a way that has led to the disproportionate incarceration of young men of color. It’s time to change that,” said Harris. “Legalizing marijuana is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do in order to advance justice and equality for every American.”

Wyden said that “the War on Drugs has destroyed lives, and no one continues to be hurt more than people of color and low-income communities. There is a desperate need not only to correct course by ending the failed federal prohibition of marijuana, but to right these wrongs and ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted.”

Bennet added: “This long-overdue change will help bring our marijuana laws into the 21st century. It’s past time we bring fairness and relief to communities that our criminal justice system has too often left behind.”

Reps. Barbra Lee (D-CA) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) filed a House companion bill.

“Communities of color and low-income communities have been devastated by the War on Drugs,” Lee said. “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, I’m proud to sponsor legislation that would legalize marijuana at the federal level, address the disproportionate impact of prohibition on people of color by expunging criminal convictions, and promote equitable participation in the legal marijuana industry by investing in the communities hardest hit by the failed War on Drugs.”

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by misguided marijuana policy for far too long,” Khanna said. “Rep. Lee, Sen. Booker, and I are proud to introduce this important legislation and deliver justice for so many Americans.”

The funds withheld from states deemed to have discriminatory arrest and incarceration rates for cannabis would go toward a new community reinvestment fund, which would “establish a grant program to reinvest in communities most affected by the war on drugs, which shall include providing grants to impacted communities for programs” that include libraries, community centers and job training.

People who have been “aggrieved by a disproportionate arrest rate or a disproportionate incarceration rate” would be able to file civil lawsuits against states under the bill.

During the last Congress, the Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act garnered six cosponsors in the Senate, while 43 House members signed on to that chamber’s version of the bill. Neither received hearings or votes.

Legalization advocates cheered the bill’s reintroduction.

“Cory Booker and Barbara Lee have single-handedly shifted the conversation in Congress on cannabis reform. The failures and harms caused by decades of cannabis prohibition, particularly the impact on low-income communities and communities of color, are undisputed,” said Queen Adesuyi, policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “For decades, marijuana arrests, convictions, and subsequent collateral consequences have disrupted lives, which have also destroyed the social and economic fabric of certain communities. Now with Democrats in control of the House, it’s time to right these wrongs and advance this conversation even further by passing cannabis reform that is centered on criminal justice reform and economic empowerment of impacted communities.”

The new legislation’s language is identical to that filed last Congress, with the exception that the community reinvestment fund covers fiscal years 2020 through 2042 instead of 2018 through 2040 as in the last version.

“The Marijuana Justice Act is the most comprehensive piece of federal legislation ever introduced to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition and to address the egregious harms that this policy has wrought on already marginalized communities,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said. “This robust legislation not only removes marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, but it also provides a path forward for the individuals and communities that have been most disproportionately impacted by our nation’s failed war on marijuana consumers.”

Read the full text of the Marijuana Justice Act as introduced in the House below:

Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 by on Scribd

Where Presidential Candidate Cory Booker Stands On Marijuana

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

Politics

California Governor Says Marijuana Legalization Is A ‘Civil Rights’ Matter Amid Mass Protests Over Racial Injustice

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The governor of California discussed systemic racism and injustice that is inspiring mass protests across the country in a Friday speech, and he touted the state’s legalization of marijuana as an example of how it has addressed racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said at a press conference that he’s “very proud of this state” for going beyond issues such as implicit bias in policing and the “deadly use of force.” California’s leadership helped advance “a conversation about broader criminal justice reform to address the issues of the war on drugs” and “race-based sentencing,” he said.

“That’s why the state was one of the early adopters of a new approach as it relates to cannabis reform. Legalization around adult-use of marijuana,” he said. “It was a civil rights call from our perspective.”

“I was proud to be out in front in those efforts,” he added. “It was about addressing the disparities. It was about addressing incarceration. It was about addressing the ills of this war on drugs.”

Newsom also discussed the racially discriminatory sentencing of crack versus powder cocaine and other mandatory minimum sentencing policies. While the federal disparity was reduced over time since Congress passed the sentencing provision—a policy presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden helped enacted during his time in the Senate and later sought to undo—California eliminated the distinction in terms of state sentencing in 2014.

Even so, the governor recognized that the reforms the state has enacted to date are “not enough” and more work needs to be done. He’s also not alone in drawing a connection between drug policy reform and racial justice.

Earlier this week, the governor of Virginia said that the passage of marijuana decriminalization legislation this year represents an example of how his state has addressed racial inequities that are inspiring mass protests over recent police killings of black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) also recently said racial disparities in marijuana criminalization is an example of a systemic injustice that underlies the frustration of minority communities.

Last week, 12 House members introduced a resolution condemning police brutality and specifically noting the racial injustices of the war on drugs. It now has 160 cosponsors.

The measure came one week after 44 members of the House sent a letter to the Justice Department, calling for an independent investigation into a fatal police shooting of Taylor in a botched drug raid.

In New York, there’s a renewed push to pass a package of criminal justice reform legislation that includes a bill to legalize marijuana. Sen. Julia Salazar (D) told Marijuana Moment that “in this particular moment, I think what’s the important factor here is that [criminalization] disproportionately impacts black and brown New Yorkers.”

“Because of the criminalization of the use of marijuana, more black and brown New Yorkers have interactions with police than they need to,” she said. “More people end up in the criminal justice system in the first place than is necessary at all.”

New Jersey Lawmakers File Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Ahead Of Broader Legalization Referendum

Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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American Bar Association Says Firms Working ‘Indirectly’ With Marijuana Industry Should Get COVID Relief

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The American Bar Association (ABA) sent a letter to the heads of the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration (SBA) on Friday, urging them to end a current policy preventing law firms that service state-legal marijuana businesses from receiving federal coronavirus relief.

SBA has made clear that cannabis companies are ineligible for its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans—but its policy also bars those that work with marijuana businesses indirectly from getting the aid. ABA, which has nearly 200,000 dues-paying members, said it wants clarification or a formal policy change to make it so indirect businesses are not impacted.

“The ABA supports amending federal law to ensure that lawyers do not face the threat of criminal charges when they represent clients in states that have legalized marijuana,” the organization said. “Even before those changes are made to federal law, lawyers should also not be penalized for providing legal services to cannabis-related businesses that comply with state laws.”

ABA also argued that the policy is excessively broad in that it stipulates that companies that derive any revenue from servicing a cannabis business cannot receive relief during the pandemic. “Thus, a law firm where a single lawyer provided advice to a single marijuana business client on legal issues for a nominal fee would arguably be ineligible under this language for the SBA PPP loan program,” the organization wrote.

ABA’s letter further notes that 78 percent of firms are located in states where marijuana is legal in some form.

“We urge SBA to provide further guidance that it will not treat otherwise eligible businesses, including law firms, as disqualified from the PPP program based solely on having provided legal, financial/accounting, policy, or regulatory advice to a Direct Marijuana Business,” Judy Perry Martinez, ABA’s president, wrote.

Steve Fox, strategic advisor at the Cannabis Trade Federation, told Marijuana Moment that it’s “wonderful to see an organization with the reputation and stature of the ABA engage on this issue.”

“As they note, the SBA guidance is overly broad and unjustly punishes companies and firms all across the country. In fact, in some states, the cannabis industry is so ingrained in the economy, you have many hundreds of companies providing goods or services to cannabis businesses,” he said. “According to the plain language of the SBA guidance, they are all, with very minor exceptions, ineligible for PPP loans.”

“We stand with the ABA in urging the Treasury and Small Business Administration to issue further guidance, clarifying that ‘indirect marijuana businesses’ are eligible for PPP loans. If they fail to do so, Congress should remedy this situation at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.

In February, ABA’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a bill last month that would fix the COVID-19 relief access problem, calling for SBA eligibility for cannabis businesses and ancillary companies. That came after he led a letter with 34 bipartisan members of the House urging leadership to include the policy change in future coronavirus-related bills.

Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a similar request to Senate leaders in a separate letter.

Separately, the ABA-supported Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act was included in a House-passed COVID-19 relief package last month.

A bipartisan coalition of 34 state and territory attorneys general asked Congress to pass the bill with that language, which would protect banks that service marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.

The head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said this week that marijuana business banking represents one of the most “challenging issues that I have encountered” at the agency.

Read ABA’s letter to the Treasury and SBA below: 

ABA letter to SBA on PPP by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Federal Financial Regulatory Agency Head Says Marijuana Banking Among Most Challenging Issues

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Bermuda Government Releases Marijuana Legalization Bill For Public Feedback

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The government of Bermuda released a draft bill on Wednesday to establish a legal marijuana market in the self-governing British overseas territory.

“Surprising for some, public attitudes have evolved apace with global legislative reforms and in recognition that opening up pathways for new economic opportunities and activity is needed,” Attorney General Kathy Simmons said in a video on the proposal.

Under the proposed legislation, adults 21 and older would be able to possess and purchase up to seven grams of cannabis from licensed retailers.

A regulatory body called the Cannabis Advisory Authority would be responsible for issuing licenses and regulating the market. There would be seven types of licenses available: cultivation, retail, research, import, export, transportation and manufacturing.

Individuals with prior marijuana convictions would not be barred from participating in the industry.

Fees for the licenses would be set in a way designed to both stimulate the territory’s economy while also ensuring that they are not prohibitively expensive for “underserved and marginalized communities,” a summary of the bill states.

People with convictions for possessing seven grams or less would be eligible for expungement.

Last year, Bermudan lawmakers unveiled draft legislation to create a medical cannabis program. Public feedback signaled that people felt the bill imposed excessive regulations and that the territory should more broadly legalize marijuana altogether for adult use.

Now that this new draft legislation has been released, the government is again asking for public input up until July 3. On its site, individuals are prompted with seven specific questions that feedback is being sought on. That includes queries about licensing requirements and penalties.

Premier David Burt, who pledged last year to introduce marijuana legalization legislation, also encouraged individuals to weigh in on the proposed regulations.

“The Government has made a commitment to progressively liberalize cannabis laws in Bermuda and to create economic opportunities for citizens wishing to participate in a regulated cannabis scheme,” the site states. “The Government again wishes to ‘take it to the people’ by commencing a one month public consultation exercise on the proposed scheme.”

The attorney general said in her video that the government plans to “move ahead with a more simplified, regulated cannabis scheme, which builds on the strength of the original medicinal cannabis policy and which embraces the public feedback.”

“The revised proposal with provide for a regulated cannabis program which has been hybridized to meet Bermuda’s requirements while modeling the best available legal provisions in Canada, both provincial and federal, and to a lesser degree, examples from the Caribbean,” she said.

Several Caribbean nations have started exploring marijuana reform in recent years. Importantly, in 2018, the heads of 19 Caribbean nations agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” emphasizing “human and religious rights” issues stemming from criminalization as well as “the economic benefits to be derived” from legalization.

Since then, lawmakers in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis said they would be introducing legalization legislation. The government of Trinidad and Tobago brought two cannabis reform bills before Parliament last year—one to decriminalize low-level possession and another to legalize cannabis for medical and religious purposes.

Meanwhile, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has been stressing the need to legalize marijuana in order to generate tax revenue for the U.S. territory’s fiscal recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Jamaican government also recently announced that it will be allowing medical cannabis patients to make marijuana purchases online for pickup at “herb houses” as a means to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the draft bill to legalize marijuana in Bermuda below:

Bermuda marijuana legalizat… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Touts Legal Marijuana’s Economic Potential At Revenue Meeting

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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